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College Shapes Black, White, and Latina Women’s Work and Family Lives Differently

Race plays an important role in how college affects women’s marriage, fertility, and employment.

Having a college education shapes women’s work and family trajectories—including their marriage, parenting, and employment patterns—but the effects of education differ among Black, Latina, and white women, according to new research in the journal Demography.1

Here are some of the key findings:

  • College education is a key factor in Black women’s work-life trajectories. Compared with white and Latina women, Black women are more likely to experience single motherhood and interruptions to steady, full-time work. However, college education narrows these disparities, increasing Black women’s access to full-time work and stable partnerships.
  • In contrast, white women tend to experience life course trajectories that combine partnership and motherhood with part-time work or unemployment, and having a college degree increases their likelihood of working part-time. It’s unclear whether white women are working part time by choice or because of family caregiving demands; the researchers note that both factors may come into play.
  • Latina women have the highest fertility among the three groups and are more likely than Black and white women to live with a partner while either staying at home or working in steady, full-time employment. However, having a college degree has little impact on Latina women’s work or family trajectories.
  • For single mothers in all racial/ethnic groups, having a college education decreases the likelihood of experiencing interrupted work or repeated unemployment spells and increases the odds of being overworked—but these patterns are most pronounced for single Black mothers compared with single Latina and white mothers.

The findings suggest that college education can give women better access to the combination of steady employment and having a family. But structural constraints—including racism and additional barriers to marriage and employment—affect Black women’s work-family trajectories more than those of other women, according to the researchers.

“Our study draws a complex picture of the distinctive roles played by education, race, and ethnicity in shaping the work-family lives of women across the life course,” said Léa Pessin, the paper’s lead author.

Data for this study are from a nationally representative sample of 4,869 U.S. women ages 23 to 50 in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979. The survey follows women’s levels of employment, fertility, and partnership histories.


  1. Léa Pessin, Sarah Damaske, and Adrianne Frech, “How Education Shapes Women’s Work and Family Lives Across Race and Ethnicity,” Demography vol. 60,4 (2023): 1207-1233.